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fresh meat, in Frontiers

gun-shy heroine, in Frontiers

September 2008 SITE MAP   SEARCH

cast: Karina Testa, Samuel Le Bihan, Estelle Lefebure, Aurélien Wiik, and David Saracino

director: Xavier Gens

108 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Let's not get caught up in the mock political stance of Xavier Gens' silly but entertaining horror Frontiers (aka: Frontières). The makers have appropriated the race riots of a few years back and reapplied them to a near future interpretation of the French political landscape, one in which an extreme right-wing government is in power and Paris is not safe for the ethnic population. It is a tack that even the home crowd might consider a cheap shot. The pot is boiling and what appears to be an activist cell has awoken to the very real alternative of skipping the country, and commits a robbery to fund their cross-border departure. Yasmina (Karina Testa) gets involved when she learns that her fiery ex-boyfriend, the father of her unborn child, Alex (Aur´┐Żlien Wiik) has roped her brother into the raid and she becomes identified as a member of the gang during the following shoot-out in which her brother, Sami, is the only fatality. While Alex and Yasmina are at A&E, Tom (David Saracino) and Farud (Chems Dahmani) are sent ahead with the money.

No meeting point is prearranged and they pull up at a remote hotel staffed by the horny blonde statue Gilberte (Estelle Lefebure), the surly Klaudie (Amelie Daure) and the gruff Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan). The women screw the roomers, Farud protesting too much, what with a girl at home, and the girls liking it rough. They meet the frail 'mother' at the dinner table, force-fed the pulped meal through a hole in her throat which doesn't go down too prettily with the young guests. There are enough clues here for an experienced horror film fan to recognise a psycho family in their cannibal retreat when one sees them, but the young idiots simply brand the girls as whores and the rest of the family crazy tops. Not that the 'family' need an excuse but the insult acts as reason enough for a fake cop, Hans (Joel Lefrancois) to enter their room and take them unawares. A gruesome set-to ensues and the boys escape though far from unscathed and never far enough away.

The car ends upside down at the mouth of a mine, and they hide there, but aware that deep in the dark several of something are on all fours and shuffling around in the dark. Yasmina and Alex find the hotel just as the family sweep up the last of the breakages and mop up the last of the blood. They are told that their friends have roomed at the next hotel, as this had no rooms available, and Gilberte and Klaudie offer to escort them to the unlikely boarding house a farm even farther off-track. The viewer makes has been running survivalist calculations around in his head throughout, two unguarded against three killers, two injured against four killers, two unguarded plus two injured against four killers, and readjusting time and again, but it never gets any easier on the defending team, and this steady worsening of their position is a clearly deliberate and clever tactic of the director.

The family grows and their number falls and their injuries get worse and worse. It is not a good place to be. They meet the rest of the family at the farmhouse: slaughter-man Carl, his wife, the child-like Eve (Maud Forget) and the head of the family, Von Geesler (Jean-Pierre Jorris) an original Nazi officer from the sounds of it, the director seemingly having forgotten that he has already set his tale in the future making that unlikely. I swear, daft is the grain of this film. Frontiers is almost poking me to thrash back at it. Take the robbers, are heroes, for example, they are the young and the dumb hence un-likable. Their language is largely cuss-words and pathetic barbs unpleasant connotation. On the wounded Sami and taking him with them the comment is made: "He looks like a tampon. It's too risky." Oi, you, director, immature!

The structure of the film and the delivery, however, save the film. It is savage in detail and toys with its cast like a cat with a blanket of maimed mice. Hope flares like magnesium and is gone as immediately. Yasmina is spared when it she is noted that she is several months pregnant. The family want new blood, inexplicably, even when not pure Aryan blood, and all that Carl and Eve can produce are deformed children. Three of the mutants have been kept alive by Eve in the tunnels, left to feed independently from the carcasses hanging in refrigeration unit, their survival kept by the rest of the family from Von Geesler (Jean-Pierre Jorris), who's instructions had been to have them put down. Ever the death's head nostalgist there is no place for the disabled in his vision. The baby that Yasmina had planned on aborting now ironically saves her bacon, or at least saves her from becoming bacon like her friends.

The second part of the film involves the bold Yasmina's inception into the family and her immediate rejection of it, resulting in a taut chase and the requisite survivalist bloodbath. She is helped in putting the odds back in her favour by internal family disputes, which immediately reduce the numbers of the opposition. Eve also wants out, the hills' tribe Ruby of this film. Ludicrous Frontiers may be but it is consistently gruesome fun, and not for the squeamish. I would not go as far as to say it forges any identity of its own and its closest cousin, I would say, is the Canadian horror Wrong Turn, by comparison a grab bag of influences and, in its quickstep fantastical and imaginative settings and behaviour, Frontiers borrows from an odd assortment of thrillers including Requiem For A Dream (quick edit drug taking collage), The Descent (an incredibly claustrophobic tunnel scrabble), Day Of The Dead (underground hide and seek), Trainspotting (the most disgusting toilet in Scotland/ France), La Haine (de rigueur), and The World, The Flesh, And The Devil. From the latter they turned to the scene of the hair cutting where the scissor user becomes excitable and snips wildly at what appear to be the actresses real locks, though the series of edits here do no match the immensely worrying similar sequence in The World, The Flesh, And The Devil which is terrifying because it is done in one long continuous shot. More obviously tick-boxed are the hills' tribe and chainsaw family, not to mention more recent French horrors like The Ordeal.

Xavier Gens falls in love with Karina Testa's panic-attack trot, a post-terror Thunderbird puppet-like walk, but uses it, breaks from it for another fight, and then returns to it. The use is erratic, her shakes stronger at some times than they are at others and it busts up the continuity. Frontiers does well for a silly film, but a sensible viewer trying to earth themselves for the experience might find the incredibility a bit of a mental joist. The closing song track is lyrically the worst since Alice Cooper's Identity Crisis for Pierce My Heart With Silver Bullets (aka: Monster Dog). Frontiers ends on these lyrics, and so will I... "Loving you a dream carrying your babe/ watching me going slowly to my grave/ didn't know you/ didn't know you... seeping hatred in a glass of milk/ injecting fear in my pretty veins/ didn't know you/ didn't know you... Kill me I'm a monster/ you may be cruel but I'm not a failure/ kill me I'm a monster, I beg you now 'cause I'm not a killer/ kill me I'm a monster, you spill my blood because I'm just a dreamer/ kill me I'm a monster/ You make me cry it will soon be over." Oh dear! Oh, dearie me!

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